Talking Tactics

Lack of continuity checking Chelsea's progress

Adrian Clarke 08/10/2017
Antonio Conte, Chelsea

Adrian Clarke explains why the champions have not yet hit last season's heights

Adrian Clarke is analysing three teams' starts to the season, and what they are doing right and wrong. 

Inconsistent Chelsea

En route to the 2016/17 Premier League title Chelsea displayed many fine qualities, but it was continuity that ultimately made them champions.

With no midweek European matches, the names on Antonio Conte’s teamsheet were almost as consistent as their excellent performances.

This season that flow has been lost.

Injuries, suspensions and a desire to rotate players for different competitions are all factors that have disrupted cohesion at Stamford Bridge.

As a by-product of this, the Blues have dropped a surprising number of points.

Incorporating the two systems used by Conte so far this season (3-4-2-1 and 3-5-1-1) below is a breakdown of who has started where, and how often, across the first seven Matchweeks.

It shows that only two outfield players, N'Golo Kante and Marcos Alonso, have appeared in all seven Premier League matches in the same position.

Chelsea's revolving side 
Appearances Name Pos
7 Courtois GK (7)
Alonso LWB (7)
Kante CM (7)
Azpilicueta RCB (5) RWB (2)
6 Morata CF (6)
Rudiger LCB (4) RCB (2)
5 David Luiz CB (4) DCM (1)
Moses RWB (5)
Fabregas DCM (1) CM (3) AML (1)
Willian AMR (4) AMC (1)
4 Bakayoko CM
Pedro AMR (1) AML (3)
3 Christensen CB
1 Hazard AMC
Batshuayi CF
Boga AML

(Positions: GK - goalkeeper; LWB/RWB - left/right wing-back; CB - centre-back; LCB/RCB - left/right centre-back; DCM/CM- (defensive) central midfielder; AML/AMC/AMR - attacking midfielder left/central/right; CF - centre-forward)

This high level of changeability would impact negatively on most teams, and it explains, at least in part, why Chelsea’s performances have been hit and miss. 

Defensively I feel there have been too many changes.

Familiarity helped forge strong partnerships within Conte’s rearguard last term, but that has been sacrificed by frequent alterations in personnel and positioning. 

In central midfield the configuration has also been tweaked from one match to the next, while in front, Willian, Pedro and Eden Hazard haven’t yet had the opportunity build up a head of steam.

Numbers are down

Chelsea’s fluency on the ball and ability to shut down the opposition has been adversely affected - and the statistics prove it.

Across the board Conte’s men have not been as powerful in attack, or as secure at the back as they were in the title-winning campaign.

And interestingly, perhaps due to their added UEFA Champions League commitments, Chelsea’s players haven’t run as far, or as hard this season either.

Therefore, fatigue may be playing a part in their erratic form.

Chelsea's change
Per match 2016/17 2017/18
Shots attempted (inc. blocks) 15.3 12.3
Shots faced (inc. blocks) 8.5 12
Shots on target faced 2.7 3.3
Km covered 112.8 110.7
Sprints 524.6 498
Conte’s conservatism

Tactically, my main observation is that Conte has been more cautious this term.

While his use of a 3-5-1-1 achieved fabulous results against Tottenham Hotspur and Atletico Madrid, he perhaps abandoned too much attacking flair at home to Manchester City, deploying Cesar Azpilicueta instead of Victor Moses at wing-back, and only Hazard in support of Alvaro Morata.

At home to Arsenal there was also a lack of attacking ambition and zest.

Based on performances so far, Chelsea look most comfortable and balanced in a 3-4-2-1 that mixes five defensive players with a quintet of offensive talents. 

Conte’s approach is not in need of a dramatic rethink.

The key now is for the head coach to decide what his best XI is, and to give that side time to develop and breathe.

Also in this series 

Part 1: Possession game reinforcing Man City defence

Part 3: Doucoure at the heart of Watford's rise

Part 4: Full-back focus key for Palace to stop Chelsea

Part 5: Can Stoke pressure lead to Man City repeat?

Part 6: Pace and width can hasten Everton revival

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